An anticipated mediation program in Southern California will work with recently evicted families with children. It will focus on providing mediation services to keep the children in their schools in order to provide them with reassuring routine, educational and community continuity and stability. The goal is to help homeless children complete their education which will positively impact the rest of their lives, their families and the state.
To enhance this mediation service, I will collaborate with Ascencia which is a Glendale-based nonprofit organization that provides shelters and services to the homeless in Los Angeles County. Ascencia has been successful in securing continued enrollment of homeless children. By providing homeless families with afterschool programs and daycare, Ascencia also prevents suspensions and expulsions of many children due to their behavioral and emotional issues stemming from homelessness.
My narrow focus will ensure that my pilot mediation program will not be spread too thin and will have at least one successful client. In advocating for continued school enrollment for the homeless children, Ascencia may encounter resistance from, refusal from and conflicts with the families, schools or other service providers. A neutral but caring mediator will help bring the parties together, defuse tension, find common grounds, create a collaborative instead of adversarial working relationship, and thus, provide a safe environment for flexible, creative and mutually beneficial problem-solving.
Many homeless parents and children are mentally ill, victims of violence, physically ill or challenged, developmentally challenged, traumatized, and stressed. The parents may not be emotionally available and sensitive caregivers. They may be abusive. The children may externalize their symptoms through acting out, risky behaviors, delinquency, and dropping out of school. Thus, both the parents and children may have negative or suboptimal ways of relating to themselves, to one another, and to outsiders that prevent them from getting the help that they need and from becoming self-efficacious. In short, they can be high conflict, difficult and frustrating to work with. This adds to the already psychologically and spiritually demanding work of the Ascencia employees.
Meanwhile, the challenging life and work of the parents, children and Ascencia employees may leave them feeling overwhelmed, overburdened, traumatized directly or as bystanders, victimized, burnt-out, and suffering from compassion fatigue. A chronically difficult life and work situation may harden the behaviors of even the most committed family members and employees. A neutral outside mediator who is not directly impacted by the daily life and work of the families and Ascencia employees may help spot these symptoms and bring them to the attention of the parties to work together for a solution.
The mediator will provide training and coaching, and will model behaviors in mediation with the families, Ascencia employees, or working partners such as school employees. Subjects to be covered may include: the nurturing of, compassion and empathy for self and others; self-soothing, self-expression, and self-reflection; problem solving skills; resilience building; fostering positive connections with self and others; reducing difficult behaviors and conflicts; and resolving internal and external conflicts. One goal will be for all the parties to create a nurturing environment for the children at home, at school and with different agencies, so that they may safely express themselves, effectively secure help and resolve conflicts.
The mediator will also provide different viewpoints and additional eyes and ears for the working of the family and agency. Individual family members and employees may confidentially inform the mediator of their concerns before a major conflict flares up. Such concerns may address systemic failures or shortcomings. A neutral outside mediator may be better positioned to bring up difficult issues; to constructively challenge a family, an agency or its working partners, without fear of losing employment.
In short, for programs like this that involve working with high conflict clients, a mediator will serve a valuable and additional function in the team comprising the family. I look forward to starting the mediation program that will build more resilient and nurturing families, employees, and service providers who will in turn support homeless children in completing their education, and thus, create a better future for the children, their families and the country. I hope that this pilot program will inspire many other similar programs across the country.
Attorney mediator Wean Khing Wong is a court-appointed mediator for the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District. Wean Khing holds a Juris Doctor in Law, a Bachelor of Science in Biology, and a Master of Art in Counseling Psychology. She completed two years of psychotherapy internship that included crisis/immediate intervention.
Wean Khing's above article won First Place Award in the 2017 mediation writing contest, "How Mediation Can Help the Homeless," that was organized by the County of Los Angeles, Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. The article was first published on the Department's website in 2017.